Multi-day events: dealing with lost appetite

Last weekend, I did two 120-mile days in a row. On day one,I was careful to get adequate nutrition, paced the ride well, and finished with, I thought, some energy to spare and felt great.

But I woke up on day two with no appetite, couldn’t get anything down other than a cup of chocolate milk, and so started the day a bit behind on calories and had to try to make them up throughout the day. By about 100 miles I was feeling quite irritable and depleted. Made it home, but now two days later I’m still tired and irritable with little appetite.

The ride was a big jump in mileage; up to then this season I had ridden at most 90 miles a day and not back to back. So certainly I was over tired. But there’s no way for me to train for multi day events without these big jumps in mileage, and the event I’m training for itself, five days in a row of at least 120 miles, will also be a big load on my system.

Does anyone have done proven tips and tricks for getting food down under these circumstances? Last year nutrition deficit was my downfall in the same tour I’m training for now. The more tired I got, the less hungry I felt and the fewer foods I felt I could stomach, and I didn’t complete the tour.

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What works for me is more variety… things other than simple carbs/sugars. Salty nuts, crackers, little cheese or meat sandwiches, squares of pizza, mini bacon and egg burritos, flavored sticky rice cakes… If you poke around on the web, you can find info/recipes for such things that pro cyclists use on multi-day races. I’m sure there are vegan options too…

I’ll add that I have to keep ahead of it as much as is possible, so shoot for 100 calories every half hour or so from the outset. I am fortunate in that my GI tract is very tolerant and it’s rare for my stomach to get upset or to get stomach cramps.

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My suggestion is to practice. Nutrition can actually be practiced. So do more multi-day practice runs while trying to eat more and staying ahead of your fuel instead of behind. Your body will adjust if you keep at it.

When I was training to run half marathons I never ate anything during my races. Then I would bonk in the last 3-4 miles. I started practicing eating during all of my training runs. Keeping gels and gummies and whatever I would eat during a race with me so I could practice.

This came in handy when I finally did a full marathon. I ditched a backpack full of Gatorade and water and gels on my route and did loops during all my long run days.

So definitely train your nutrition. Try doing more long back-to-back days. Try to force yourself to get more food in before you start on day 2. It will definitely help. And also work on getting more fuel in on day 1 after your ride because you may not be getting enough fuel afterwards and your body could shutting down digestion. Note: I’m not a nutritionist, so this isn’t gospel. But practice does make perfect.

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Fair play on 2 x 120. I think huge credit to doing that - in any kind of fuelled state. And sounds like you weren’t best fuelled on day 2 and still did it :ok_hand:

On food - I’m another one who’s in the ‘stay ahead of it’ camp. Food is just food for me, so I don’t care what’s boring or ‘yuck’ as I’ve spent some time telling myself in 24hr events to ‘eat, whether I like it or not’.

So - for me - unless you have any foods you just cannot eat (for any reasons like GI), then this game is as much in the head as it is in the body.

Top tip number one - a bit like the SUF mental training thing (forget about your legs and lungs for now - you’ve been training them for however long) - is to have a plan for eating and make that as much of a ‘goal’ as the cycling - so you stick to it.

In 24hr events (not quite the same as there’s no sleep involve to change the bodies recovery state) I found myself in the same place - not ‘wanting’ to eat.

I swear - forcing myself to eat did work - I had a schedule of getting max carbs in to my system (that I thought I could use - I was using 60g/hr) without fail.
In occasional breaks I’d grab something completely different - sometimes my wife had hot food handy, or a quick warm cup of tea, or a bit of cake, and sometimes (scary though eh? A protein shake (mixed protein and carbs) and I’d just factor that in.
And that was almost harder than the riding !!

But - it has become regular practice for me now. And I notice now that there’s a couple of friends i ride with - they hardly eat it seems and I’m eating away all day. But I ride better the next day because of it and eventually it’s not food I’m lacking - then it’s just lungs.

Specifics. I take in protein (via easily digestible whey and essential aminos) the day before as well as carbs. I just use them as ‘snack’ alternatives. I do the same in the morning before riding. And during the 24hr period I will get a couple of doses of protein in there (not as much now as the body won’t use it much I don’t think - just making sure it’s ‘in the system’) and then after the event there’ll be the same happening - whey and casein and some essential aminos. Bedtime shake too.

When on multi day rides - I do much the same even if I don’t ‘want’ to. And I use shakes a lot as I find the whole thing easier to do - mixing the nutrition with water is a win win for me.

Just my tuppence worth from an average person who enjoys riding bikes :slight_smile:

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Maybe think about the format of food too. Compact but easily digested, low fat etc. Relying on just energy/carb drinks dosn’t work well for me because I don’t sweat/ drink a lot. And pacing probably affects food acceptance too. Too hard leaves you exhausted AND lacking appetite. Better luck next time!

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Just another similar personal anecdote.

Before I started cycling/triathlon I was primarily a runner. And I did all my training runs first thing in the mornings (just like all my cycling workouts, now). And I did practically ALL of my training runs fasted. Because when you’re getting up at 4:15am / 4:30am it’s hard enough to wake up and get out the door without needing to eat. It was never worth it to wake up an extra 30+ minutes earlier just to eat first, and with most of my weekday runs being 6 miles or shorter I didn’t feel I needed to.

And that was fine during training. But when I would have to wake up on a weekend to do a half marathon race, I would have trouble choking down food at 3/3:30am on the way to my race. And if you look at how I trained, you’ll see why.

I did this for years and didn’t realize the source of my problem until I started cycling and doing triathlons and did a lot more sports science education. I started getting up a bit earlier and actually trying to eat something before most of my more intense workouts, and eating during my long ones. Once I started actually regularly eating before and during my early morning workouts my stomach eventually came around to get used to it.

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Am I right on thinking that your problem was eating off the bike rather than on it? What’s your favourite food, as long it’s appetising and packed with carbs to refill your glycogen tank it doesn’t really matter what it is when your trying to eat 1000s more calories than normal .

Saturday is donut day at our local cafe, one of those on top of a whole pizza and I was set for a 3hr fasted ride on Sunday morning.

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Thanks so much for these thoughtful responses and illuminating anecdotes! I appreciate it very much. Some thoughts you’ve raised for me:

This, for sure. The only breakfast available to me on the morning of day 2 was banana-chocolate chip muffins. I gagged on it. Next time: have some microwavable packets of beans and rice with me, or stop at the convenience store for a breakfast sandwich.

Good point. I am proud of how good I’ve gotten at on-bike fueling; time to work on before and after.

Right! I definitely made on-bike fueling a part of my training, with explicit goals of getting at least 50 g. of carbs per hour and taking a bite or sip every 5-10 minutes. I can work off-bike fueling like it’s my job, as well :slight_smile:

On reflection, this was part of my problem. I was riding with my husband, who was pacing according to my heart rate (very patiently and with good humor, too - he’s a wonderful riding partner). But I felt really good on day 1, and the ride finished with 30 miles of straight and flat, which felt so good to this non-climber that I put on more gas than I ought to have. On day 2, since I was tired, my HR was much lower, so I started out on the aforementioned flats riding a bit harder than I should have without recognizing it. That could be a big part of why I didn’t finish well.

Indeed. I always put off breakfast for an hour or two because I take morning medication that needs to be taken apart from food. Perhaps I need to switch to taking that pill at night, a couple hours after eating, so that I can teach myself to eat right after I get up.

Yes, thanks, my problem is off the bike. Good perspective that it doesn’t have to be “good” food, or balanced macros, or anything - just calories that I feel I can eat a lot of. Will work on building a repertoire of easily obtainable foods I love to eat enough to choke down when I don’t want to eat.

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Hi @DameCristy! First off, congrats on getting in those two big days even if day 2 didn’t go as well or feel as good.

Remember that hydration is also a major factor in consecutive days…so be sure that it’s not just the calories/fuel that you’re working on getting in - but very important also adequate fluids, and especially the right amount of sodium relative to the fluids. If you get even a little dehydrated, your GI system is going to shut down and be less capable of processing/absorbing the proper amount of fuels. And if you’re glycogen stores get depleted in the first day or two, you’ll be running partially empty the rest of the time as it takes 2-3 days of very high carbohydrate intake to get glycogen stores back up to 100% full.

Be sure to check out The Knowledge episode 40 for more on hydration: https://the-knowledge-by-wahoo-sports-science.simplecast.com/episodes/drinking-lessons-hydration-basics-to-improve-performance We also have 3 episodes on nutrition - pre/during/post training to check out (The Knowledge episodes 14, 15, 16)

Also, keep in mind that flavor fatigue is real - and its important to have a variety of different tastes in what fuels you’re using while riding, but also in recovery as well as pre-ride each day. Personally, I need to take in a lot of carbohydrates on multi-day rides to ensure that I’m well fueled, but I get really tired of sweet stuff after a couple of days…so I go for savory things like rice cakes with bacon & egg, pretzels and beef jerky as other foods to use in multi-day rides in addition to sports nutrition bars and drinks.

Finally, some high energy density foods can also be helpful to get in calories without lots of volume in your stomach - options like chocolate + peanut butter or high calorie drinks with a mix of carbohydrate, protein and fat (like Ensure) are good options for pre-bed snacks. Happy riding and keep up the great work!

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@Coach.Neal.H , thanks so much for bringing up hydration. I had not thought of that. I will check out the Knowledge episode you linked.

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doing bike stage races (esp mountain bike stage races) in heat, i have had this same experience. As greengrass said, the issue is more often off the bike, not on. You sleep poorly and you just end up feeling like you can’t choke anything down. I have been there. In my case, it has been a combination of dehydration (to greater or lesser extent) plus the super high activation of the fight-or-flight part of the nervous system when digging deep above FTP, repeatedly, where upshot is i found i slept poorly and even the next morning, had trouble choking anything down.

Couple things have helped:

i. Hydration, as coach Neal said. If you get too behind on hydration, esp when coupled with the autonomic nervous system activation, no amount of food variety will help you and neither will keeping up with intake because you just can’t. So key is to not fall behind on that.

ii. if it’s hot, focus on getting cool as fast as possible, and also hydrating more than you think you need to.

iii. when it comes to eating, you may need to break habits about what is healthy. Like for example, you may need to ditch the seed bread and go with wonder bread. it’s undoubtedly less nutritious and has less goods tuff like fiber, but one of them goes down and the other may not. I ate so many peanut butter (skippy, not natural), jelly and wonderbread sandwiches just because it was the only thing that would go down!

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Thanks for sharing your experience, @devolikewhoa . Very good advice about forgetting healthfulness or at least prioritizing palatability. And I am starting to think hydration may be the forgotten variable. This weekend I’ll do a test of my sweat rate; the forecast is promising record heat so it should be a good test.

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@devolikewhoa The only time I eat PB&J on white bread is during long races and it is definitely my go to food. It has a great balance of fat and carbs - all easily digestible.

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This discussion is great, and so glad that you asked this question, DameCristy. I am dealing with the same issue of not getting hungry and not wanting to eat, and I think the dehydration advice is especially pertinent. I’m wanting to do multi-day bike packing/camping and need to keep up my energy for that. I did an overnight and bonked at the end of the first day. I forced myself to eat and I’m sure that I didn’t eat enough, but more than that, I didn’t drink enough. I drank and ate so much when I got home that it was ridiculous. My mind just can’t wrap itself around the amount of fluids and food that I need to consume!

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I did a sweat rate test over the weekend: two hours in moderately warm weather, endurance pace with some climbs. I found I lost 0.8 L/hour. My normal target is to drink one 0.6 L bottle per hour. That discrepancy can easily be made up after a shorter ride, but after 8-10 hours I would be significantly behind, especially in warmer weather. So now I’m starting to aim to get at least one extra bottle every three hours. We’ll see how that goes this week on my next round of back-to-back rides.

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Lengthy, high-exertion activities cause this and it’s a known and common phenomenon. Thru-hikers experience this problem and sometimes have to force-feed themselves for two weeks before the body adjusts, but it does adjust. It happens because your body is not accustomed to the stress it is under, panics, and begins to shunt blood and divert its resources to the areas that need it to maintain the activity - the muscles.

Thanks for this - it really helps me relax and not worry that something awful is happening :slight_smile: Two weeks to acclimate is a long time! I’ve got four training weeks left before tapering for my tour. I will work on getting my body used to miles as well as I can.

The part that seems unfair is that my husband can ride 20 or 30 miles a week and then hop on his bike and ride hundreds of miles without any effect other than a huge appetite.